One of the most familiar ways of introducing a star celebrity is by denying they need an introduction. Certainly that is the case when one begins to talk about Florence, Italy. Ah, heavenly Firenze! Here is a city among cities since well before we knew what a small planet we are in the stars.
But before I get personal on Florence, here are some facts just to give grounding to this heavenly city: Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. A centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of the time, Florence is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, and has been called the Athens of the Middle Ages. The historic centre of Florence attracts millions of tourists each year due to Florence’s artistic and architectural heritage, and it has been ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Anyone who has ever fallen in love, knows that the object of his or her love is the most beautiful, so here is my confession. I’ve got a full blown love affair going with Firenze. Yes, I’ve got a crush on some other cities, but with Firenze, please excuse me while I blush. And while I sometimes say Florence and sometimes say Firenze, a love by any other name would not sound so sweet.
As a writer, I am humbled to even begin to speak of Florence by mentioning Dante and DaVinci without taking a breath. We live in a Twitter world which makes us cultural barbarians by comparison. Yes, I know, I can have no imagination about summing up this region or its historic figures in a few sentences. It can’t be done, and better men than me have tried.
But to begin, on any journey I like to know where I am going to lay my head. From there I can plan on where I will take my body. So, first things first – as trite as that may sound even the truth can sound trite – let’s talk about my favorite hotel in Florence. It is Antica Torre di Via Tornabuoni. It’s long history is a great story,
Here’s the short story: The Tower House, as its known, was built during the first half of the 13th century It over looks the River Arno and is a block from the famed Ponte Vechio.
From the early twentieth century until the conclusion of the Second World War the aristocrats and English intellectuals, fascinated by Florence, favored the Antica Torre di Via Tornabuoni 1 as their preferred residence.
After the Great War, thanks to careful restoration work, which preserved and brought back to life all of the buildings original appeal, the Via Tornabuoni palace acquired life and warmth once again. The magnificent complex is considered one of the historic “tower houses” of Medieval Florence and today affording its own breathtaking terraces with panoramic views over the whole of Florence.
Okay, you get it. The hotel is amazing, and my only request is that you don’t try to book a room when I am trying to book a room. Because, trust me, once you see this place, you will try.
I have returned to Firenze on a number of occasions and feel at home in the city. No small part of this is the quality of the people who have made me feel at home – a gift of any people in any country. And let me introduce you to four of them, each of them their own window on Italy. All four of them I have met at the hotel or through the hotel. Ah, you are getting the picture.
When you arrive, behind the counter is Geneva. Geneva doesn’t try to be nice; she is nice. Let me be clear, not nice but duhhh; nice and completely competent. She will make sure your room meets your vision of your time in Florence. She will help you find a dinner reservation – try Giostra, simply outrageously good – that will leave you singing her praises when you walk back on through the Firenze night pinching yourself that you are there. And when you thank her the next morning, she will blush.
Before you go to dinner, you would be wise to go up the one of the two roof-top terraces and meet Lorenzo. Lorenzo will make you the perfect cocktail to sit and watch the sun go down. Of the two terraces, my favorite is the one that on the left looks over Ponte Vechio and on the right looks down five more bridges straddling the River Arno. I’d say the sunset was unbelievable, but believe me it is for real even if you have to pinch yourself to remind yourself. And it is a memory-image you will not easily lose in the rush of life. Lorenzo is my friend now. His smile wouldn’t allow him to be less. And after showing him how to shoo the pigeons with a perfectly thrown piece of ice from my drink, I am referred to – despite all my gold stars I have strived for – simply as Professore Pigeone.
In the morning, the day that is just beginning begins magnificently. Breakfast, part of your stay at this hotel, is served on the second terrace, which, yes, also looks over the River Arno. And the buffet is molte magnifico, no translation necessary. This is not the mile long buffet in Las Vegas; it is a piece of heaven.
And the angel who makes sure all is right for you is also a friend to my wife and me is a young queen named Fatima. Fatima is from Morocco, and just got married – lucky guy. Her good heart is a gift to the world. And her smile would make global warming blanche by comparison. She is one the truly great people you will ever meet. I promise you. Yes, I have known Fatima over some years, but on my birthday when she and the staff sang me happy birthday with such genuine caring, I cried and am damned proud to have cried.
On one of my trips to Florence, I discovered, with the help of the hotel – what a surprise, eh – a great driver, a great tour guide, a wise soul, and now a friend. His name is Marcello. He is a native of Tuscany, and I am sure Chianti Classico runs in his veins, not because he drinks, but while others can claim to be blue blooded aristocracy, Marcello is a red-blooded good man who does not see kindness as a weakness. And that is no small thing to find in any country.
We saw great things I will remember forever – including putting my head on the trunk of a tree that DaVinci planted and feeling his spirit – ate great food in an environment I will remember forever, had laughter I will remember forever, and planned out next trip together that I am already remembering.
In Firenze it is tough to turn a corner and not go wow, as in “With Out Words!” Whether it is a sculpture whose lines are lines of poetry or the lights that play off the cobblestones at midnight on a bridge that crosses time, Firenze is magic. Or to better put it, it is a city that brings out the magic we too often forget is part of life.
I hope my friends in Firenze read this because I want them to know how much I cherish the honest friendship they offered this traveller. And I hope, as you read this, that you take the best of it to your heart. After all, our heart knows what our mind only thinks it knows.